They say timing is everything and we tend to agree: Being in the right place at the right time (or the wrong place at the wrong time) can make all the difference. It can certainly make a difference in how much we enjoy a given locale. When it came to Austin, our timing was spot on, luck was on our side, and the end result was an awesome two week visit to a fantastic city.
Our good fortunes started as soon as we drove into McKinney Falls State Park. Texas state parks allow you to reserve a campsite, but not a particular campsite. Which site you get is based on what’s available when you arrive at the park. We were concerned because we were coming in on the Saturday of a nice warm weekend. We figured the campground would be packed and we would get the leftover spot no one else wanted. But when we checked in, the ranger told us we were very fortunate to be getting site #13. She said she was actually surprised it was available because it’s always so popular. As soon as we drove up, we realized why: Our site was enormous, private, heavily treed, and at the end of a quiet loop. While we dinged the site in our review because it was very sloped, once we got set up, it was AWESOME.
The park itself is worth a visit if you’re in the area. There are numerous hiking trails, waterfalls, and access to the river.
We took the dog for long hikes, to swim, and to wade in the river…
We were in Austin while the bluebonnets and other wildflowers Texas is famous for were in full bloom. There were numerous fields of flowers throughout the park. Beautiful.
High Drama at the Capitol
The Texas Capitol building is spectacular, inside and out, and set against the bright blue Austin skies on a perfectly warm sunny day, it was gorgeous.
After enjoying lunch with some of Kevin’s former colleagues (his firm has an Austin office), we wandered up to the Capitol and walked in just in time to join a free tour of the building. Later, we took photographs from all angles of the incredible rotunda…
After the tour, we decided to pop our heads into the various legislative chambers just to see if anything was going on. Late in the afternoon on a Tuesday, we didn’t expect much, but the senate happened to be in session, so we quietly walked in and sat down to watch.
As we were monitoring the high drama of the legislature renaming various highways, we realized something else was going on. To our right sat about 10 young women wearing red capes and white bonnets. None seemed interested in the proceedings, none were talking to one other, and most were glued to their cell phones. As I looked around, I noticed there seemed to be an inordinate number of security officers and capitol staffers watching the gallery where we were sitting.
What the hell was going on??
Then, suddenly, the Senate’s presiding officer called up the next bill:
And just as quickly, all of these red caped women stood up in unison, unfurled signs, and were promptly ordered to exit by all the staffers and security officers who’d been watching them.
It was clear the staffers knew what the women were going to do and the women knew what the staffers were going to do. It was like some prearranged act. “You’ll do this, and then I’ll do that, and then everyone goes home…”
We continued watching a short argument about the first bill, and a lengthier one about a related bill. We had apparently stumbled into a legislative session about hugely controversial abortion rights laws that ended up being a national news story the next day.
In any case, it was interesting to actually see the legislature in session and debating something of real importance, and as much as I’m DYING to tell you what I think of all this, this is a travel blog where I’ve repeatedly promised to keep my political views to myself, so I’m not going to go down that road.
…Even though it’s sucking the life out of me right now to keep my mouth shut.
…Seriously. I can actually feel the life force slowly draining from within…..
Me and my stupid rules.
Anyway, after watching the Senate for a bit, we headed over to the empty House of Representatives chamber to check it out.
Things were a lot less charged over there.
If you’ve ever been to Austin, or if you know anything about Barbecue, you’ve probably heard of Franklin Barbecue. It is the most famous restaurant in the city and has been featured on shows like Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.” Lines routinely stretch 4 to 6 hours on weekends. During the week, you’re looking at 2 to 4 hours. And the fact is, you could stand in that crazy line for hours on end only to be told they are running out of food and you’re out of luck.
Before we even got to Austin, we’d both concluded that it was unlikely we’d want to deal with any of that. And as soon as we started running around this incredibly fun city, we decided we had a lot better things to do than stand in line for hours. So, we wrote it off.
But one afternoon when we tried to go to a different restaurant only to find out they were closed, Kevin suggested driving by Franklin. I figured we’d be wasting our time since it was long past the hour when they were usually sold out, but as we drove up, we were shocked to find a handful of people standing at the front door. They still had food! We parked the car, jumped in line, and in just 25 minutes, made our way to the counter.
We sat down and ohmygodsogood… SO good. SOOOOOOOOOOOO good.
I’ve never been a big brisket person. It’s fine. But whatever. This stuff? Imagine crack sprinkled with heroin. Ok, don’t imagine that. That’s a terrible idea. Just trust me on this: It was freaken delicious.
Within 30 minutes of us sitting down to eat, the meat had run out and we watched as Franklin staff members told disappointed would-be patrons they were out of luck for the day. By the time we finished eating, the restaurant was just about empty. As we were packing up our leftovers, and while still discussing our incredible good fortune, one of the kitchen employees randomly walked up to us and told us they had some extra sausages that they hadn’t sold and asked if we wanted to take them home. “Yeah, let me think about that for a minute. People stand in line for this nonsense for 6 hours, and you want to hand me a bunch for free? Ummmmm, yeah. That sounds good. Thanks.”
And with that, several pounds of leftovers in hand, we walked out, turned around, and saw this on the door:
Our timing, both arriving and departing, simply could not have been better.
Unsurprisingly, no one was more excited about all of this than Dixie. Of course, not one to appreciate the hours upon hours of effort put forth by a few talented souls to create such amazing food, she regarded her portion with the same appreciation she awards Walmart’s own brand of bacon.
Our luck continued on my birthday. For days forecasters had been predicting rain and storms and general dreariness. WTH??? It had been sunny and warm for our entire visit. NOW it was gonna be crappy? On my 40th birthday??? Come on….
BUT, apparently, the weather gods got the message that this was “Kevin and Laura’s Lucky Week” and reversed course. We were greeted by bright blue skies and temperatures in the low 80’s. Perfect!
I spent the morning at the LBJ Presidential Library and we stopped on trendy South Congress Street for cupcakes (Ok, I had two cupcakes and Kevin had none because he didn’t want any… Shut up, it was my birthday!!)
Later, we headed to ultra popular Barley Swine for dinner where we sat at the Chef’s Counter and watched very hip men with very hip beards create a very hip tasting menu.
We’ve been fortunate to try some incredibly good food over the years. We’ve also been to some popular places we felt were overpriced and over-hyped. Barley Swine was easily in the top tier of all of the places we’ve visited. Food, service, setting, everything… fantastic.
All in all, it was a GREAT way to start my 40th year.
I’ve got another post coming about the awesome Austin parks, food trucks, and sightseeing we got to do, along with spending more time with new and old friends. We were in Austin for two weeks, but we could have used about two months. It’s a great city with so much to offer. More on all of that soon.
In the meantime, if the kind of good luck and good timing we had in Austin holds out, we will be quite thankful.